In 2016, Ontario Nature acquired the Sydenham River Nature Reserve (SRNR) with the help Ontario Nature members and supporters. The Sydenham River is home to 23 species at risk, 34 species of mussel, and many rare birds and plants. This Giving Tuesday, Ontario Nature is raising funds to protect and restore the Sydenham River Watershed, where SRNR is located, an area rich in biodiversity and threatened by development.
With the help of our Sydenham Field Naturalists and Lambton Wildlife Inc., we are transforming 60 acres of dis-used agricultural fields at SRNR into tallgrass prairie, which will eventually become Carolinian forest through natural succession. With minimal natural cover currently found in southwestern Ontario, we wanted to provide more Carolinian forest habitat for the species that already call this property home. Once this restoration project is complete, this nature reserve will contain the largest continuous forest patch along the Sydenham River.
Had we just planted trees in the fields, the ground between them would fill in with weeds, which would remain for decades until the trees were large enough to shade them out. By planting tallgrass prairie, we are providing native, functional habitat for the species living in or passing through the nature reserve such as pollinators and grassland birds, including species at-risk such as bobolink and eastern meadowlark. Other benefits of planting tallgrass prairie include soils acting as carbon sinks, storing carbon in the roots, and the ability of these deep rooted plants to stabilize the soil.
In 2018 and 2019, the fields were seeded with tall grass prairie species including big bluestem, switchgrass and tall sunflower. Pits and mounds were constructed to mimic the uneven floors found in old growth forests, and vernal pools were created to attract breeding amphibians. Our staff and partners have been amazed at how well the prairie species are quickly establishing!
In the fall of 2020, members of the Sydenham Field Naturalists and Lambton Wildlife Inc. participated in socially distanced seed collection and planting events.
In 2021, many trees and shrubs will be planted in the fields and we will need lots of volunteers! If you or anyone you know is interested in lending a helping hand, please keep an eye on the events calendar on our website for more details.
This work is very important, especially in southwestern Ontario, where wild spaces are rare. The securement of this nature reserve and the restoration work will enable many species to thrive and provide a space for people to enjoy this living museum of species that were once abundant across southern Ontario.
Gabby is Ontario Nature’s Nature Reserves Coordinator. She specializes in herpetofauna and has worked for Scales Nature Park and The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. In her free time, Gabriella enjoys hiking, reading, camping and playing volleyball.